Art: Magician, Clown, Child

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 4)

Haunted. At such moments, Ol denburg is death's buffoon. The wind shield wiper will never be built. But the mere fact that it has been designed reminds one of Dean Swift's A Modest Proposal, in which the satirist suggested the fattening and roasting of infants as a solution to the Irish famines. Indeed, allowing for the limits within which an artist can resemble a writer, there is something very Swiftian about the whole cast of Oldenburg's imagination — haunted by death, fascinated by the elaboration of fantasy worlds in which the uses of objects are transformed.

Even Swift's "excremental vision" has its counterpart in Oldenburg. Any object — from a typewriter eraser to a toothpaste tube, from an ice bag to an electric plug — can be seized and turned into a visible metaphor of the body's shapes and functions.

The result is that everything Olden burg makes is a testament to polymor phous perversity. Men construct arti facts and these, by some mysterious process of imitation, end up looking (to Oldenburg) like parts of bodies. These similarities are basic to his imagery.

"Any art that is successful in project ing positive feelings about life," Olden burg maintains, "has got to be heavily erotic." So the kapok-stuffed blades of a soft blender dangle like pendulous breasts; a fireplug mimics a torso.

Because they are humanized, these objects take on a marvelous, even clownish pathos. The blue vinyl mass of Oldenburg's Three-Way Plug — Scale A hangs from the ceiling, drag ging its prongs on the floor like a deflated giant; its sockets gaze mournfully at the room; one feels an urge to speak gently to the thing and soothe its defeat. By contrast, Oldenburg's Heroic Sculpture in the Form of a Bent Type writer Eraser, 1970, which was com missioned — and then rejected — for an office plaza on Manhattan's 57th Street, is a veritable parody of the hero-figure — all attention and verticality, the hairs on its brush metamorphosed into ropes of braided steel cable.

Epic Images. Oldenburg has a unique power to perceive things both organically and schematically — even his own face, as in his Symbolic Self-Portrait with Equals, 1969. "The face is a cutout, like a mask, which is past ed on the diagram of objects . . . One side shows the kindly aspect of the art ist; the other, his brutal one. The body is introduced in the image of the face via the representation of the body's juices — the tongue (bringing out the insides) — which doubles as a heart and a foot . . . The ice bag on the head signifies that the subject was on my mind ... I alternated between the image of a magician and that of a clown, trying to make a combination of the two."

Indeed, it could be said that no living artist combines the roles of magician and clown with as much skill as Oldenburg — except, obviously, Picasso.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4